Since no current or former Yankees are born on today’s date, I thought it would be an appropriate time to review the Pinstripe Birthday Blog’s five favorite moments of the Yankees 2011 season.
Number 1 – Derek Jeter getting his 3000th hit – Those who’ve read this blog over the three-plus years it has been live know my feelings for the Yankee Captain. I’ve watched Yankee baseball closely for over fifty years and can honestly say that no other player has given me more great memories as a Yankee fan than Mr. Jeter has. He’s a class act. So when the Yankee front office started blabbing to the media about their closed-door negotiations to re-sign the shortstop over the past winter and then when that same New York press started piling on Jeter for his slow start this past season at the plate, I was pretty upset. On July 9, during an afternoon game against Tampa at Yankee Stadium, Jeter once again proved why he is one of the most admired and loved Yankees in franchise history. When that game started, he had needed two hits to reach the 3,000 mark and he went out and got five. And after weeks of listening to and reading idiots write about how Jeter was now just a Punch & Judy singles hitter, Derek’s hallmark hit was a deep home run, pulled to left field. A great moment for a great Yankee. (The answer to today’s Pinstripe Birthday Trivia Question is – Jeter had 162 hits during the 2011 regular season.)
Number 2 – Mariano Rivera getting his 602nd save – Yankee fans have been especially blessed over the past decade and a half because in addition to Jeter, we’ve watched the very best closer in the history of baseball get the last crucial outs in hundreds of Yankee games. On September 19th of this past season, Mo was called in to pitch the ninth inning of an afternoon game against the Twins at the Stadium. He was given a two-run lead and proceeded to pitch a perfect final inning with the record-setting third out coming on a called third strike on Twin first baseman Chris Parmelee. The save was the 602nd of Rivera’s unbelievable career, sending him past Trevor Hoffman to the top spot on the All-Time career Saves list.
Number 3 – Jorge Posada playing in his last Yankee game – This one was bittersweet because you know it breaks Posada’s heart to realize he will almost certainly never take another at-bat in Yankee pinstripes. I was afraid his farewell tour was headed for a disastrous ending when he refused to play in the Boston game after Girardi demoted him in the lineup. But cooler heads prevailed and Jorge sucked it up and reminded everyone why he has become one of the most beloved Yankees of his era. If his solid hitting performance during the Yankees 2011 ALDS versus Texas turns out to have been his Yankee swan song, all I can say is; Hip Hip Jorge! You have been a great Yankee!
Number 4 – The emergence of Ivan Nova – I have to admit that as the 2011 spring training season opened, I did not think this kid was quite ready for prime time but he certainly proved me wrong. He was pretty much phenomenal the whole year and really showed the mettle of a professional when after he was unfairly demoted early in the season, he just kept pitching.
Number 5 (tie) – The emergence of David Robertson – After being spoiled for a decade and a half watching the most dominating closer in baseball do his stuff game after game, I found myself wondering if it was actually possible that his successor was already wearing Yankee pinstripes. That’s how good David Robertson looked on the mound in 2011.
Number 5 (tie) – Curtis Granderson’s outstanding season – I have watched and followed Yankee baseball pretty closely for a very long time and I do not remember a player who conquered a weakness in his game as dominantly as Granderson has overcome his inability to hit left-handers. In my opinion, he was the Yankee MVP of 2011 as he helped fill the power deficit caused by A-Rod’s frequent absences from the lineup, especially against southpaw pitching.
When I started really following Yankee baseball I was six-years-old. Back then, I thought guys like Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi, Moose Skowren, Bobby Richardson, and Whitey Ford played forever. I soon realized that wasn’t true. I’m now watching my fourth generation of Yankee legends reach their twilight years. Among them is Jorge Posada. He turns 41 years-old today. Hall of Famer, Bill Dickey caught the most games in a Yankee uniform, with 1,709. The great Yogi Berra caught 1,692. By the end of the 2010 season Posada had caught 1,573 games in pinstripes. Jorge payed attention to numbers and stats and I’m sure that when he signed his last Yankee contract, he thought that by the end of that deal, which was 2011, he’d be setting the record for most games caught in a Yankee uniform. He probably also thought when he signed that last contract that he’d have a real good shot at reaching both the 300 home run (he finished with 275) and 2,000 hit (1664) milestones by 2011 as well. None of that happened. Instead, what was supposed to be the crowning season of Posada’s outstanding career as a Yankee turned into a season of trial and tribulation.
It began with Brian Cashman telling him in spring training that he would never again be behind the plate in a Yankee game. I found myself painfully admitting that Jorge’s catching skills were worse than ever. So many pitches got by him. His throws to second were not nearly as hard and accurate as they once were and after 16 seasons of squatting behind home plate, his base-running had gone from bad to scary awful. So I did not disagree with the decision to make Jorge a full-time DH.
That didn’t work out as planned either. Posada seemed to have forgotten how to hit right-handed in 2011. To make matters worse, he has was twice demoted by Yankee Manager Joe Girardi prior to nationally televised games versus the hated Red Sox, once to ninth in the batting order and then to a seat on the Yankee bench. One thing many fans and sportswriters seem to forget is that professional athletes don’t perform well because of talent alone. The reason they are the very best at what they do is that they believe they can do it. When Posada walked to the plate to face a left-hander, he never once was telling himself he had no chance to hit the guy. He honestly believed in his head that he could hit anybody at anytime, so when his GM or his Manager told him he couldn’t do something anymore, he didn’t believe it for a second. Not because he was stubborn or in denial but because he had to believe it to have any chance at being successful. And in a memorable August 13th game against Tampa last year when he drove in six runs, Posada got an opportunity to show Cashman, Girardi and a national television audience that although the end of his career may have been near, it wasn’t over yet. And no true Yankee fan will forget his 6 for 14 hitting performance and .579 OBP against Detroit in last year’s ALDS. It turned out to be a fitting curtain call for a true Yankee warrior.
Yankee fans won’t see the likes of Posada ever again. Solid switch-hitting catchers who are among the top two or three best in the league at their position for about a dozen straight seasons are pretty hard if not impossible to come by. Throw in five World Series rings and an equal number of All Star game selections and Silver Slugger awards plus all the good things he did off the field and you realize what a pleasure it was to have this man catch for your favorite baseball team all that time.
December 30th is one of the few days of the year on which no Yankee,
past or present was born. So last year on this date, I presented this
“Top Ten Yankees of the Decade” post. This year, I thought I’d condense
that a bit and discuss who the five players are who’ve contributed the
most to Yankee baseball over the past five years.
1. Derek Jeter – this list has to start with “The Captain.” Despite
his first-ever mediocre year in 2010 and the needless and very
derogatory comments made about him by the Yankee front office during
his just-completed contract negotiation, Jeter remains the classiest
act in all of baseball and is still the straw that stirs this Yankee
team. I’m predicting he will be back better than ever in 2011.
2. Robinson Cano – His awesome 2010 regular season performance and
the fact that he finally put together some offense in a postseason has
convinced me that this guy has the entire package necessary to be
baseball’s best second baseman for at least the next five years.
3. Mariano Rivera – The only reason he is not number two on my list
is the inability of the rest of New York’s pitching staff to get him
any save situations in this year’s ALCS against Texas. The best closer
4. Alex Rodriguez – Has become the all-time greatest third baseman
in Yankee franchise history but his recent injuries and longer term
power outages may be evidence of the magic of performance enhancing
pharmaceuticals unhappening right before our eyes.
5. You decide who belongs in this slot and let the rest of our
readers know by posting your answer in the “comments” section below.
Candidates include Pettitte, Sabathia, Matsui, Teixeira, Damon, Posada,